96

Madison entered the room and saw a wall of screens. Most of the screens were displaying a map of the earth and overlaid on that map were circles that she guessed represented the pebbles. There were thousands of them. People were seated at rows of computers. The setup looked like pictures she’d seen of NASA mission control. She spotted Judy and walked over to her.

“Wow,” she whispered.

“Impressive, right? That man on the phone over there is the NASA administrator,” Judy replied.

“The current one?”

“Yes, access to the self-destruct code is highly regulated. We needed him on our team if we were going to pull this off. It wasn’t a hard sell—one of the things NASA does is keep an eye on the state of our own planet.”

“I didn’t know that. I think of NASA as looking out, not in,” Madison said.

“NASA does a lot of environmental science work. The administrator is acutely aware of what a mess our planet has become.”

“Who’s he talking to?” Madison asked.

“The President.”

“Of the United States?”

“Yes,” Judy replied. “Obviously, we need governments to know that this is not an act of war being committed by another country. He is giving the President enough notice to alert other major powers.”

“Can’t the President pull the plug on the operation? Cancel the launch codes or something?” Madison asked.

“Yes, but that will take some time.”

“How much time?” Madison asked.

One of the people sitting at a computer screen stood up and rushed over to Judy carrying a tablet computer. “You need to look at this,” she said.

Judy took the tablet and started reading the text on the screen. Madison recognized it right away. It was her story.

“Fuck,” Judy said. “Oh fuck. The phone?” she said to Madison.

Madison shrugged, “You’re about to take down the internet. It was now or never.”

Judy scowled and walked quickly over to the NASA administrator, who was still on the phone. He scanned the story while listening to the President speak. Then Judy pointed at Madison, who waved sheepishly. He ended his call and the two walked over to Madison.

“Well aren’t you just a pain in the ass?” he asked.

“I try,” she said.

“Well the clock is ticking now,” he said.

“What’s next?” Madison asked.

“I give the codes to that person there, and she starts the sequence.”

Madison took the tablet from his hand, “Can I see this?” she asked. Before he could respond, she swung it at Judy’s face and made contact, causing the old woman to double over in pain. That exposed her gun which was stuck into the back of her pants. Madison had noticed the outline earlier when they were walking the hallways. Madison grabbed the gun, rushed to the woman the administrator had identified, and put the gun against her head. “Back away from the keyboard,” Madison said. The woman rolled her chair back and put her hands up.

“Madison!” Judy yelled. “What are you doing?”

“The way I figure it, if I stop you from entering that code for what, maybe five minutes? This whole thing will be over. The President will change the codes and life will go on as before.”

“Accurate,” the administrator said.

“Jesus Christ,” Judy groaned.

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